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2010 bird mortalities: Report for Alberta Environment

2010 bird mortalities: Report for Alberta Environment

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Published by: emily_mertz695 on Oct 04, 2012
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Spatial and temporal correlates of mass bird mortality in oil sands tailings ponds
 A report prepared for Alberta Environment by
Colleen Cassady St. Clair, Thomas Habib, and Bryon Shore,
10 November 2011Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada T6G 2E9
Executive Summary
On October 25 and 26, 2010, 547 dead birds were recovered and recorded by operators in the oilsands region of Alberta. These deaths exceeded the occasional mortalities that are reported byoperators in a typical year and resulted in an investigation by Alberta Environment. As part of that investigation, Cory McLaughlin, an investigating officer with Alberta Environment, askedme to address the questions that follow. More information on the context of that request andsubsequent discussions is included in the cover letter to Cory that accompanies this report. Iaddress each of the questions below and conclude each with a set of conclusions. I provideadditional synthetic conclusions and recommendations at the end of the report. Three appendicesfollow the report detailing weather and GIS information. Answers to my questions includeseveral additional tables and figures that are referenced within the text.The main conclusions of my analyses are as follows:1.
Adverse weather conditions undoubtedly contributed to the recoveries recorded onOctober 25 and 26, 2010. Adverse conditions included strong and variable winds, precipitation, dense cloud cover, and darkness. There is no evidence that the recovered birds were in ill health, but the positions of deterrents and artificial lights may haveinfluenced where birds landed and, hence, the probability of encountering bitumen(below).2.
Based on prior information, it would have been difficult to predict the precise landinglocations on October 25 and 26. However, synthesizing the available literature wouldhave anticipated the potential and approximate roles of adverse weather, lower deterrentdensities, and proximity to the Athabasca River. The analyses in this report combinedwith analyses of both past and future landing events of smaller magnitude will make it possible to increase the predictability of landing events in space and time. No one has
Adjustments to this report were completed in July 2012 in response to new information aboutthe locations and numbers of birds that were recovered in the days following October 25, 2010.Further minor changes were made on 13 September 2012 to accommodate a review of FOIPPregulations. Original and tracked changes versions of this document are available upon request.
Habib and Shore assisted in the GIS and weather analysis, respectively, and will be authors ona related publication. This report is written in first person singular to reflect the methodologicalideas and opinions for which St. Clair is responsible.
Report on the October 2010 Landings,
C. C. St. Clair et al.
, 10 Nov 2011, Minor revisions 31 July and 13 September 2012
2 previously anticipated the combination of poor weather, geography, bird physiology, andthe positions of deterrents, artificial lights, and bitumen that may best predict the specificlocations of landings in this event.3.
Detailed analyses of the spatial correlates of bird recoveries in the October 25 and 26landing event indicated that they were more likely:a.
On ponds that were closer to the Athabasca River with lower deterrent density or larger areas of shoreline that were unprotected by audio deterrence of 80 dB or greater, b.
Within 200 m of shorelines on the down wind side of ponds, andc.
In the vicinity of anthropogenic light stations that support mining operations.4.
More information is needed to assess the importance of both spatial and temporalvariables, but several recommendations for research and mitigation are offered. Data of  particular relevance include the distribution of both bitumen and anthropogenic light inthe oil sands and the responses of birds to lights of different colours, intensities, anddistributions. For more immediate use, the mitigation with the greatest promise includesuse of green light instead of white, containment of bitumen, and the provision of alternative landing sites when periods of extreme weather and migration coincide.
Report on the October 2010 Landings,
C. C. St. Clair et al.
, 10 Nov 2011, Minor revisions 31 July and 13 September 2012
Detailed report on the questions posed by Alberta EnvironmentAlberta Environment Question 1:
What is the most reasonable explanation as to whymigratory birds landed on tailings ponds north of Fort McMurray on October 25/26, 2010?Late October comprises the very end of the fall migratory period for waterfowl in northernAlberta. Waterfowl there and elsewhere in North America typically migrate south to their wintering grounds throughout the late summer and fall of each year. Shorebirds and passerines begin migrating in August of each year. Waterfowl species, which are usually among the last toleave, may stay on breeding and staging areas as late as the middle of October. Although the fallmigration period is usually protracted and much less synchronized than spring arrivals bothwithin and among species, migration of waterfowl through the oil sands region was historicallyover by October 25 and 26.
 Within-species variation in migratory timing is associated with bird age, breeding status, breeding success, and body condition. In general, birds that bred or were produced late in theseason and birds in poorer body condition leave for the wintering grounds later. Because food istypically abundant in the late summer at northern latitudes, birds without sufficient reserves tomigrate stay as long as the weather remains favourable. The lesser reliance on photoperiod inthe fall increases the importance of temperature as a cue to initiate migration (Newton 2007).The sudden drop in temperature that occurred shortly before October 25 (see below) would beexpected to prompt movement by any late migrants that remained in more northern staging areas.Once migration is initiated, two main circumstances cause birds to land or ‘stop-over’ beforereaching their final destinations. One is the predictable need to rest and refuel at periodicintervals, and the other is adverse weather conditions that make flight too costly to maintain. Idiscuss below each of these causes for stop-overs and their consistency with conditions onOctober 25 and 26.The frequency and duration of refueling rest stops is generally not well known and varies amongspecies, individuals, seasons, and weather patterns (reviewed by Faaborg
et al.
2010). Large- bodied birds such as ducks can store substantial body fat to fuel their migration and likely stopless frequently than do smaller birds. Typical stop-over frequency during fall migration for waterfowl appears to vary between a few hours to a few days (Morris 1996, Newton 2007).Variation among both species and flocks would be expected in the timing and duration of stop-overs induced by the need to refuel.The birds that landed on Mildred Lake Settling Basin on October 25 and on surrounding areas on both October 25 and October 26 had likely recently departed from the Peace-Athabasca Delta.The importance of that wetland complex is well-established as a staging area for water birds in both spring and fall migrations. In fall, birds would forage there to accumulate the fat reservesthat would sustain them on their southward migration. An unusually warm October in 2010 waslikely the reason some migratory birds were still in the area on October 25.
McLaren M. A. and McLaren, P. L. 1985. Bird migration watches on crown lease 17, Alberta,Fall 1984. Report prepared by LGL Limited for Syncrude Canada, Ltd.

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